Free Or Nearly Free Ottawa
Visiting Ottawa doesn’t have to cost a lot. Besides the affordable packages offered by Ottawa Tourism, there are many alternatives for people looking to save some cash.
Take the Bus
The DayPass by OC Transpo entitles you to unlimited same-day travel on the bus and the O-Train (a light rail pilot project in the west end).
Spring, Summer or Fall Activities
- Use your bike or inline skates or just hoof it and explore hundreds of kilometres of paved pathways; winding along rivers and the Rideau Canal; flat and easy or mountainous and challenging—the choice is yours. Sunday Bikedays actually close 52 kilometres (32 miles) of the most picturesque rides to motorized vehicles and let cyclists, inline skaters and runners rule from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.. Sunday Bikedays run from Victoria Day weekend in May to Labour Day weekend in September.
- Buy fresh bread, fresh coldcuts, cheese and vegetables from the farmers and stores in the ByWard Market, then have an impromptu picnic in Major’s Hill Park or at Nepean Point (located behind the National Gallery) for a spectacular view. The point is a beautiful spot to take pictures of Parliament Hill, the Ottawa River, Victoria Island, Jacques Cartier Park, and the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization).
- Enjoy entertainment in Sparks Street Village (Ottawa's linear "Town Square" and Open Air Mall) at noon hour and in the ByWard Market all day from buskers — throw a buck or two in the hat at the end of the performance if you’re impressed.
- Spend an afternoon at the beach. City of Ottawa beaches are open from mid-June to the end of August. Lifeguards are on duty weekday hours Monday to Friday from 12:00 noon to 7:00 p.m. and weekend hours Saturday, Sunday and statutory holidays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
- Britannia Beach: 2805 Carling Avenue, 613-820-1211
- Mooney’s Bay Beach: 3000 Riverside Drive, 613-248-0863
- Westboro Beach: 234 Atlantis Road at Kitchissippi Lookout, 613-792-3832
- Petrie Island Beach: 727 Trim Road, 613-824-5704
- Rent a pedal boat or a canoe and explore the Rideau Canal. Rentals at the Dows Lake Pavilion, 1001 Queen Elizabeth Driveway begin the first Monday of the Victoria Day weekend. Call 613-232-1001, ext. 5 for more information.
- Mer Bleue Bog is one of the largest bogs in southern Ontario and arguably the most important natural area in the Greenbelt. Ecologically, Mer Bleue is an especially valuable example of a northern ecosystem - more typical of the Arctic than the Ottawa Valley - and it has been designated an internationally significant wetland under the United Nations’ Ramsar Convention.
- Centretown Movies, in Dundonald Park on Somerset Street West near Lyon Street. Bring a lawn chair and munchies to enjoy great movies in the great outdoors. Admission is pay-what-you-can, on Friday and Saturday nights in July and August. 613-232-1534
- Changing of the Guard ceremony on Parliament Hill each summer day at 10:00 a.m. from late June to late August each summer. Pomp and ceremony.
- While on Parliament Hill, experience the “whispering wall” (east of Centre Block, behind the Famous Five monument). Have one person stand at the one end of the bench and a second at the opposite end of the bench. Now… with no more than a quiet whisper, face the wall and talk to one another.
- On a nice spring or summer’s day, rent a bike and cycle west of downtown along the Ottawa River to admire John Ceprano’s rock sculptures at Remic Rapids. Every spring (continues through fall, until the sculptures are dismantled by the winter elements), John creates unique sculptures by only using rocks that are available on site. These often amazing creations are the perfect backdrop for pictures in the early morning or evening light!
- To get to the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization), why not take the Au feel de l’eau Aqua Taxi to cross the Ottawa River? A one-way trip is $5 and a round trip is $8. The Aqua Taxi is a great way to enjoy views of the Parliament buildings and the Rideau Canal locks!
- Hiking or snowshoeing in Gatineau Park. Located just 15 minutes north of downtown Ottawa, Gatineau Park offers over 165 kilometres (102 miles) of trails, most available year-round. In winter, there are more than 25 kilometres (15 miles) of trails especially for snowshoers and 10 kilometres (6 miles) of trails are compacted once a week for winter hiking. You can rent snowshoes for $5 per hour or $15 per day at the Gatineau Park Visitor Centre. Hiking is free. For more information and trail maps, visit www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/gatineau
- Go skating on the Rideau Canal. The world’s longest skating rink offers 7.8 kilometres (4.8 miles) of uninterrupted skating (from late December to late February or early March, depending on the weather). Skate and sleigh rentals are available on the Skateway near the National Arts Centre, Fifth Avenue, and Dows Lake. Canal conditions can be checked on a hotline at 613-239-5234 or at www.ncc-ccn.gc.ca/skateway
- Go skating indoors. Public skating in City of Ottawa arenas charge a small fee for skating (typically between $1.50 and $2.50 per person). Public Skating Information Line - 613-580-2666.
- Go tobogganing. There are several hills in and around the Ottawa area, to suit nearly all ages and preferences. The National Capital Commission has set aside three areas suitable for tobogganning in the city’s Greenbelt recreational space:
- Also, there are several hills in and around the old Ottawa South neighbourhood, to suit nearly all ages and preferences. These can be found at:
- Windsor Park: midway between the Riverdale and Belmont entrances (for younger children)
- Seneca Avenue: near the Rideau Canal (for younger children)
- Vincent Massey Park: near Heron Road
- Hog’s Back Park: near Prince of Wales Drive in Nepean
- Parliament Hill tours are free every day, but can be rescheduled due to the business of the House. You must pass through security similar to an airport.
- Visit Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush in the spring. Take self-guided maple tours and learn all about maple syrup production. Enjoy three walking trails: the Children's Trail (15 minutes), Barney's Grave Trail (40 minutes) and the Nature Trail (30 minutes). Free admission. Restaurant, nature trails, gift shop, playground, wagon rides, music, group visits, team building programs.
- Visit the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Musical Ride Centre. The Musical Ride, a world-renowned military pageant performed with 32 horses and riders, was first produced publicly in Regina in 1887. The RCMP invites visitors to tour the stables and Visitors’ Centre year-round (Tuesdays and Thursdays from September through April; daily from May through August). There is a possibility during a visit of seeing the Musical Ride horses and riders practise when they are not away on tour. The free Sunset Ceremonies usually occur at the stables at the end of June each year.
- Admission to the permanent collection at the National Gallery of Canada is free on Thursday nights from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Or, if you visit a special exhibition, you also get access to the permanent collection.
- The newly renovated Canadian Museum of Nature offers free admission on Thursday nights from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m.
- The Canada Agriculture and Food Museum offers free admission between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. each day. The adjacent Central Experimental Farm is a great place to cycle or run.
- The Canada Aviation and Space Museum offers free admission between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. each day.
- The Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization) offers free admission on Thursday nights from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m.
- The Canada Science and Technology Museum offers free admission between 4:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily. A visit to the Museum will allow the visitor to push buttons, turn dials, and pull levers to experience science and technology first-hand, as you discover artifact-rich exhibits featuring marine and land transportation, astronomy, communications, space, domestic technology and computer technology.
- The Bank of Canada Museum offers free admission at all times. The museum displays Canadian notes, coins, and tokens, as well as currency and money artifacts from other countries. *Due to renovations of the Bank of Canada’s head office facility, the Bank of Canada Museum will be closed until July 2016.
- Visit the Royal Canadian Mint. Have you ever wondered how coins are made? Find out at the Royal Canadian Mint, Canada’s national mint, on historic Sussex Drive. Founded as a branch of the British Royal Mint in 1908, the Mint produces circulation coins for Canada and other countries, as well as commemorative coins sold worldwide. Since 1976, Canadian and foreign circulation coinage has been produced at the Royal Canadian Mint’s production plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Admission is $6 per adult ($4.50 on weekends); $3 per child 5-17 ($2.25 on weekends); $5 per senior 65 and over ($3.75 on weekends); $15 per family (2 adults, 4 children; $11.25 on weekends). Children 4 and under are free.
- Rideau Hall grounds are open daily from 8:00 a.m. to one hour before sunset. Guided tours are offered daily in the high season and by reservation only in the winter.
- The Supreme Court building is open daily (including weekends) from May 1 to August 31 for free tours from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and the rest of the year from Monday to Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. for guided tours by appointment only.
- A great option for locals is to take advantage of the Museum privilege program at the Ottawa Public Library. The Library loans out family passes to several museums at no charge – all you need is a library card.
- It’s easier than ever for visitors to explore many national cultural institutions and attractions—thanks to the Canada’s Capital Museums Passport. At $45 per person, or $99 for a family of five (maximum two adults), taxes included, the Passport is valid for seven days from the first time it is used. The Passport is valid for admissions to the Canadian Museum of History (formerly the Canadian Museum of Civilization), Canadian War Museum, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada Science & Technology Museum, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, Canada Aviation and Space Museum and Royal Canadian Mint.
- In addition, a valid Passport entitles users to a 20% discount on any of the National Arts Centre’s Orchestra, Dance, English Theatre or French Theatre performances in the regular subscription series. Though they don’t charge admission, Rideau Hall, the Currency Museum of the Bank of Canada, the RCMP Musical Ride Centre and the Mackenzie King Estate in Gatineau Park are also involved in the Passport program.
- The Passport is available at the participating museums and the Capital Information Kiosk at 111 Albert Street just south of Parliament Hill. It’s a cost-saving way to experience a wealth of cultural treasures while in the city.
- The Great Glebe Garage Sale is an annual event on a Saturday in late May sponsored by the Glebe Community Association. Hundreds of families in the upscale neighbourhood known as “the Glebe” participate. Plan to get there early to get the best bargains.
- The Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival (annually in late June) is a colourful two-day event that combines the excitement and competition of dragon boat races, multicultural food and entertainment, community spirit and charitable fundraising. Free admission to watch the races.
- Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill — the only place to be on July 1 if you’re Canadian, or even if you’re not. Free concerts, short speeches by politicians, the Snowbirds, the Musical Ride, maple leaf “tattoos,” face painting, fabulous fireworks, and everyone in a good mood.
- International Museums Day features many exciting exhibits and events on May 18. On this day, many Ottawa museums usually offer free admission.
- Doors Open Ottawa offers free admission to hundreds of architecturally or historically interesting buildings over two days in early June each year. See embassies, churches, maybe even a wind tunnel!
- There’s a free, bilingual Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill every night after dark between early July and early September. Huge images are projected onto the Parliament Buildings, using them as a giant screen. It’s magnificent!
- Christmas Lights Across Canada: The program lights up in early December and stays lit until early January. Hundreds of thousands of lights decorate Confederation Boulevard, which winds through downtown Ottawa and neighbouring Gatineau, illuminating federal attractions, historic sites and other locales.
- Go to Winterlude. Every February, Canada’s Capital Region is host to Winterlude, North America’s greatest winter festival. Three fun-filled weekends of excitement and activity await the whole family! From spectacular ice carvings to an amazing playground made of snow, Winterlude is a great way to take in the best of our Canadian winter.